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Full statement on Albion takeover

5 August 2016

"I am excited and privileged" - Guochuan Lai

West Bromwich Albion Football Club (“the Club”) announces that Jeremy Peace has agreed the sale of West Bromwich Albion Holdings Limited, which owns approximately 88% of the Club’s parent entity, West Bromwich Albion Group Limited, to Yunyi Guokai (Shanghai) Sports Development Limited (“the Buyer”), a company controlled by Guochuan Lai. 

The sale was agreed on 24 June 2016, subject to certain approval and consent processes both in China and the UK. Following the approval of the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone, the principal preconditions to completion are the approval of the Financial Conduct Authority and Premier League, both of which have commenced their review processes.

In anticipation of the successful completion of the transaction, John Williams, the former Blackburn Rovers Chairman, will take over as Chairman of the Club with immediate effect. Current Chairman, Jeremy Peace, has agreed to stay on in an advisory capacity to assist with the transition to new ownership during the 2016/17 Season but steps down from his board positions in relation to the Club. In terms of the strategy for the transfer window, the Club’s management continue to remain focused on strengthening the squad, as they have been throughout the summer, and are in regular dialogue with the Buyer who is fully supportive of their ambitions.

* A message from Guochuan Lai
* Jeremy Peace bids farewell after 14 years
* Chairman John Williams addresses fans

Guochuan Lai built his career assisting with the development of Palm Eco-Town Development Company Limited (“Palm”) from a plant nursery business into China’s largest landscape design and construction company with operations throughout China and in other countries. Today, Palm is dedicated to ‘eco-town’ development in China. It is listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange with a market capitalisation of RMB15.6billion (£1.8billion) as at 4 August 2016.

The Buyer is a new company, focused on the sports industry, formed for the purpose of completing the acquisition. It is controlled by Guochuan Lai, who has provided the underlying equity for the acquisition, together with Palm and funds introduced by Yunyi Investment, a regulated asset management company, which led the negotiations on behalf of the Buyer.

The financial terms of the transaction are private and confidential between the parties. 

A passionate football fan and long-term investor, Guochuan was drawn to West Bromwich Albion by its rich history, community focus and dedicated fan base. He is particularly excited about building the Club’s presence in China, a market which offers enormous potential as football becomes ever more popular. Guochuan will remain based in China with his family to manage his business and investment interests but will visit The Hawthorns as often as possible and will fully support John Williams and the executive team on Club affairs.
 
Palm, which generated annual revenues of RMB4.4billion (£0.5billion) in 2015, is pioneering a public-private-partnership (“PPP”) model of ‘eco-town’ development with local governments, where Palm will design, construct and operate new ‘eco-towns’. These towns are designed to be more liveable and environmentally focused than traditional cities, with integral health, cultural and leisure facilities. Palm intends to place football facilities at the heart of communities, helping to accelerate the Chinese Government’s plans to develop football in the country and providing significant future commercial and cultural opportunities for the Club. 

Guochuan Lai commented: “I am excited and privileged to have the chance to become the new owner of this great Club. We have a strong squad, loyal fans and a unique culture. My immediate priorities will be to maintain the Club’s stable structure, respecting its well-run nature and its heritage. I have no intention of changing the Club’s ethos.

“There are already strong links between China and West Bromwich Albion, which began with an historic tour to China in May 1978 when the Club accepted an invitation from the Chinese Government and became the first English club to tour China in modern history. 

“I am proud that I will be the first mainland-Chinese owner of a Premier League club. This historic deal will result in a rapid and significant increase in interest in the Club in China, which should lead to attractive commercial opportunities. Meanwhile the Club will be uniquely positioned to take its well-regarded training system to China, helping to identify and develop more talented young players in the future.

“I would like to thank Jeremy Peace as he hands over a Club in great shape. That legacy, together with the commitment of John Williams and the board, Tony Pulis, the players and staff, will ensure that everyone involved with West Bromwich Albion has many reasons to celebrate in years to come.” 

Outgoing Chairman Jeremy Peace commented: “I believe this deal will enable Albion to build on the strong, sustainable foundations that have been the cornerstone of the Club’s progress.

“I have been Chairman for 14 years and I am obviously pleased that in that time we have become an established top flight club. Now, having spent time with Guochuan, I believe he is the right man to take Albion forward. 

“His genuine passion for the game, proven track record with Palm and the China opportunity he brings to Albion will hopefully play a key role in helping the Club develop still further in this increasingly global age. 

“I also want to offer my successor, John Williams, my best wishes and confirm how delighted I am that he has accepted the role of Chairman. John was my first recommendation for the position and I know from the discussions we have had about the future he is excited and eager to get started.

“Everyone at the Club – the Board, the Head Coach, the players and staff – should look forward to working with a man who has both the experience and the enthusiasm to play a key role in this, the next chapter in the Albion’s journey. His knowledge of the game, and his reputation within it, will ensure the Club is in safe hands as it moves forward under new ownership.”
 
Incoming Chairman John Williams commented: “I would like to thank Jeremy for the great work he has done at this Club over the last 14 years and I am looking forward to working with Guochuan, the board, the Head Coach and the staff, as we implement Guochuan’s vision for taking the Club forward.

“I am delighted to be joining a club in such a strong position and as we shepherd in a new era I would also like to thank Jeremy for agreeing to assist Guochuan and me with a safe handover.

"I have had several meetings with the board to discuss the strategy of the Club with regards to the playing staff and transfer window and will be looking to support them in strengthening our squad. We are committed to the task of ensuring we tackle this first season of a new era with a competitive team.

“I think it is also important to assure supporters that throughout the summer to date the Club has been operating to a well thought out, agreed and evolving transfer plan and will continue to do so for the remainder of the window. Guochuan and his team have supported this process and we will continue to conduct our business accordingly.” 

For further information, please contact:

Martin Swain - Director of Communications - West Bromwich Albion - +44 (0)871 271 1100
John Waples & Jonathon Brill - PR adviser to Yunyi Guokai (Shanghai) Sports Development Limited - FTI Consulting - +44 (0)20 3727 1000

Advisers 

Jeremy Peace was advised by Smith Square Partners and Memery Crystal. 

The Buyers were advised by Vermilion Partners, King & Wood Mallesons, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and FTI Consulting. 

Notes to Editors

Guochuan Lai was born in Meizhou, in Guangdong province, China. He is a former General Manager of Palm and is currently the Chairman of the Buyer, Yunyi Guokai (Shanghai) Sports Development Co., Ltd. He also remains a director of a number of Palm’s subsidiaries, including Belt Collins International (HK) Limited, Palm Landscape (Hong Kong) Limited, Hangzhou Nanyue Palm Landscape Construction Limited and PALM Design Holding Limited.
 
For nearly two decades, Guochuan assisted with the development of Palm from a regional landscape engineering company to the largest landscaping company in China, covering the complete value chain. After a successful period as General Manager, Guochuan Lai retired in May 2014 to focus on private investment activities in growth areas related to technology and new consumption patterns in China. He has made early stage and growth capital investments in virtual reality, tourism and sports.
 
In addition to Guochuan’s residual holding of equity in Palm, he has cash resources in excess of the amount required for the investment.

Yunyi Investment led the investment process on behalf of the buyers, including the negotiations, due diligence and structuring.

Yunyi Investment is an asset management company established in July 2014 and focuses on growth investment opportunities in sports, leisure and technology businesses. In addition to the investment in West Bromwich Albion, Yunyi are seeking further football and other investment opportunities in the UK and mainland Europe. To date, Yunyi Investment has invested in more than 20 companies, over half of which were or have become listed. 

Yunyi Investment is regulated by the Asset Management Association of China and is headquartered in Shanghai.

Palm was established in 1984 and commenced operations as a plant nursery business supplying trees and other plants across China. In 1993, Palm extended its business into landscape architecture, providing and implementing landscape designs, becoming the market leader during a period of rapid urbanisation in China. 

Today, Palm’s principal focus is developing new ‘eco towns’, in conformity with central government policy to move away from traditional cities, towards smaller cities with integral health, cultural and leisure facilities. Palm is pioneering a public-private-partnership model of ‘eco-town’ development with local governments, where Palm designs and operates new ‘eco-towns’.

Palm has a workforce of over 1,000 and operates from more than 20 offices in mainland China, as well as from branches in Austria and Hong Kong, where it acquired 80% of Belt Collins. Palm has completed over 2,000 landscaping projects in more than 100 Chinese cities. Corporate clients have included Disneyland Shanghai and Disneyland Hong Kong. 

Belt Collins is an international planning, design and consulting firm, employing over 500 staff and maintaining nine offices in eight countries. Belt Collins has provided landscaping design advice on many hotels, residential and commercial projects in Asia including the Banyan Tree in Hangzhou, the Kempinski Hotel in Sanya, and the W Hotel in Hong Kong.

Palm was listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in 2010 (ticker number 002431) and had a market capitalisation as at 4 August 2016 of RMB15.6billion (GBP1.8billion). In the six months ended 30 June 2016, Palm had revenue of RMB1.45billion (GBP164million) and recorded a profit before tax of RMB60million (GBP7million).

The Buyer is a new company formed for the purpose of completing the acquisition. It has three shareholders, each of which is a limited partnership. 

Yunyiye


59%


The principal shareholder of the Buyer is Shanghai Yunyiye Investment Management Center (LP) (“Yunyiye”), which holds 59% of the shares of the Buyer. Yunyiye is controlled by Guochuan Lai who provided the underlying equity to Yunyiye through a trust.


Yunjin


23%


The next largest shareholder in the Buyer is Shanghai Yunjin Investment Management Center (LP) (“Yunjin”) which holds 23% of the shares of the Buyer. Yunjin is funded by funds introduced by Yunyi Investment.


Yuntai


18%


The final shareholder is Shanghai Yuntai Investment Management Center (LP) (“Yuntai”) which holds 18% of the shares of the Buyer. The funds used by Yuntai to invest in the Buyer have been provided by Palm. 


About West Bromwich Albion 

• Formed by workers at George Salter’s Spring Works of West Bromwich in 1878 – 138 years ago
• Founder members of the Football League in 1888
• Moved to The Hawthorns in 1900. The Hawthorns is the highest football stadium above sea level in England
• League champions in 1919/20 and runners-up in 1924/25 & 1953/54
• Five-time FA Cup winners in 1888, 1892, 1931, 1954 & 1968; League Cup winners 1966
• First British football club to visit China in 1978
• Reached the quarter-finals of the 1978/79 UEFA Cup, beating European giants Valencia of Spain & Galatasary of Turkey in the process
• Hosted the China national football team at The Hawthorns in 1979
• Promoted to the Premier League in 2001/02 after an absence of 16 years from the English top-flight
• Were the first Premier League club to be bottom of the table at Christmas and still secure survival from relegation in 2004/05, which passed into folklore as ‘The Great Escape’
• Currently preparing for its seventh-successive season in the Premier League after returning in 2009/10


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